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Missourians Cautioned To Keep Camp Groceries Away From Bears

From the Missouri Department of Conservation

-- Turkey hunters and other campers would do well to keep their provisions under lock and key, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Jeff Beringer, the Conservation Department’s expert on black bears, says coolers full of food can be an almost irresistible temptation to bears in the springtime.
“Bears get more active with the return of warm weather, and they are hungry. Their autumn staple foods – especially acorns – are almost entirely gone, and berries and other fruits are not available yet. They eat green grass, roots and ants and other insects, but they are constantly on alert for something more substantial.”

Natural foods that qualify as more substantial include carrion and white-tailed deer fawns. Not natural, but very tempting, are human food and garbage. An unattended cooler or the leftovers from a campfire supper sometimes can overwhelm a bear’s natural shyness.

“Black bears are afraid of people,” said Beringer. “That serves them well, because bears that get mixed up with humans almost always get the short end of the stick. The old saying ‘A fed bear is a dead bear,’ is just another way of saying that acquiring a taste for human food can be fatal.”

Beringer said spring can be a dangerous time for bears, because remote areas get more human visitors during the spring turkey hunting season. Hunting camps with exposed food and garbage can be very attractive to bears, so it is important for hunters to minimize the temptation.

Measures hunters and other campers can take to prevent bear problems include locking coolers and groceries in vehicles. Cooking should be done well away from tents and canvas-sided campers to avoid making them targets of bear foraging. Trash can be locked in vehicles or placed in bear-proof receptacles.

Greasy barbecue grills can be attractive to bears, so make sure you burn away any residue after cooking is done. If this is not practical, put the grill in a garbage bag and store it in a locked vehicle.

Don’t discard grease or other cooking residues in nearby woods, as this can draw bears, skunks, raccoons and other wildlife that otherwise would avoid human contact. Instead, place them in sealable containers for disposal when you return home.

Bears also can mistake fragrances in toiletries, perfumes and lotions for food, so these should be kept sealed up and out of tents.

Beringer said the key to avoiding bear problems is awareness.

“We have had bears in Missouri for decades,” he said, “but Missourians are still adjusting to that fact. As bears grow more common, everyone needs to adjust their camping habits to take this into account.”

Beringer recommends getting inside your vehicle if a bear enters your campsite. He says honking vehicle horns, shouting, banging pots and pans or making other loud noises almost always will frighten a bear away. If these measures fail, drive out of the area and call a conservation agent or the nearest Conservation Department office for help.

Bears are protected by the Wildlife Code of Missouri, and it is illegal to kill one unless it is threatening people or property. For more information about bears in Missouri and how to deal with them, visit

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